2008 Women's Cross Country Season Preview
Sept. 8, 2008
Following a landmark season that could easily be termed the best in program history, the encore performance for the Washington women's cross country figures to reach even higher notes. Head coach Greg Metcalf readily admits it is the most gifted team he has assembled in his tenure, and they have every intention on improving on the record-setting 8th-place finish at last year's NCAA meet. One of the first challenges when dealing with such aspirations will be simply remaining patient.
'I think that our women's team can be really good,' said Metcalf. 'But as with anybody else there are no guarantees in this sport, and just because you have this roster and this talent pool, it doesn't mean that anything is assured. I'm optimistic and confident about our team and our chances. Last year was our best finish ever at NCAA's, and I thought we ran average that day.'
The two returners who led the way last year are senior Anita Campbell and junior Katie Follett. The duo crossed the finish line at NCAA's side-by-side last year, with Follett placing 19th and Campbell 20th in identical times. Each earned their first All-American honors, the first time in program history that two Huskies earned the distinction in the same season. Both returners should be in the lead pack of every race they enter this season.
Campbell has competed at the NCAA meet every year of her career, qualifying as an individual her first two seasons before leading the team to Terre Haute last year. 2007 was easily her best season yet, as Campbell finished sixth at Pac-10's and fourth at the NCAA West Regional, the best finish by a Husky since 1995. Campbell rested a nagging injury during the track season, but should be back at full strength this fall.
'I think it was the best decision for Anita to rest during track season,' said Metcalf. 'She's made progress and had a better summer this year than she had last summer. She's one of the toughest athletes I've ever coached.'
Follett will be tasked with improving upon one of the best seasons in school history. She blossomed into one of the nation's best all-around distance runners, following up her cross country success with a sixth-place finish in the NCAA mile run, and then capturing the Pac-10 Conference title at 1500-meters. She made the semis of the U.S. Olympic Trials in July to cap things off.
'Katie Follett had just a fantastic track season. All of 2007-08 was great for her,' said Metcalf. 'There were times last year where I believed Katie was as good as anybody out there. She ran 2:06 at 800, 4:15 at 1500, and 16:01 at 5K. She ended last cross country season with All Pac 10, All Region, and All American Honors and she will be better this fall.
While returning a pair of Top-20 finishers is certainly a great place to start, the Huskies also possess excellent depth, bringing back six of their top seven runners.
All-Americans on the track, seniors Amanda Miller and Michelle Turner will end their college careers with a final cross country season. Miller was UW's No. 3 finisher at NCAA's last year, and ended her illustrious track career with her third and fourth All-American honors in the mile and 1500-meters. Turner was also a top-10 finisher in the mile at NCAA Indoors, and won the NCAA West Regional 1500m title. Miller, Turner, and Follett all ended their seasons at the U.S. Olympic Trials, running in the 1500-meters.
'Amanda has been a great athlete for us. She's tenacious and has run through a lot. Amanda brings an inherent toughness, and I've always appreciated that about her,' Metcalf said. 'Michelle has never run a full cross country season so she's kind of an unknown quantity for us. She's a fifth-year senior with different experiences, I think if she can go out and be patient in September and build to November, then she's going to have a great chance for success.
'From a race experience standpoint, this is the most experienced team we've ever had,' Metcalf said. 'Anita, Amanda, and Michelle are our seniors and I think they provide us supreme leadership.'
Washington received outstanding seasons from a pair of freshmen last year, and both are in line for continued success as sophomores. Mel Lawrence was a second team All-Pac-10 performer in her first go round, and ran third for the Huskies much of the season. The best still lies ahead for one of the most talented runners to don the purple and gold.
'Mel had a great summer of training and is certainly ready to run well on the cross country course. We redshirted her during the track season for her benefit. She was a freshman and needed some time to adjust to school and training and changes,' said Metcalf. 'Mel is incredibly gifted and brings big meet experience to our group and that makes us better instantly.'
Lauren Saylor also ran in UW's top-seven in every race as a freshman. Saylor rebounded quickly from the fall and made the U.S. Junior National Cross Country team in February. She also qualified for NCAA Regionals in the 5K during the track season.
'Lauren has made a lot of progress in the calendar year. She continued to improve throughout last year and is ready to have a breakout cross country season,' said Metcalf. 'I'm incredibly excited about what's ahead for Lauren.'
Several other returners could make an impact this season, giving Coach Metcalf a wide array of options. Junior Brooke Anderson ran in UW's top-seven at Pac-10's and Regionals and Metcalf knows she will find a way to make a difference.
'Brooke Anderson is a team player and I think has a really intense desire for our team to be great, and she'll do everything it takes. If that means running in our top-seven, that's great, if not then she's probably doing something else to impact our team.'
Sophomore transfers Bailey Schutte (UCLA) and Kenna Patrick (UPS) will compete for the first time in cross country after running for the track team in the spring. Junior Mo Huber, sophomore Kailey Campbell and junior Anna Imperati could also contribute.
'Bailey ran great at the Pac-10 Championships and that was her first 5K as a college athlete,' said Metcalf. 'She's had a great summer of training and has been a great addition to our team. Kailey Campbell is ready for her best ever cross country season. She made the Pac-10 final last year at 1500-meters. At this point in her career she's been better on the track but there were points last year where she ran great cross country. Mo Huber is one of the emotional leaders and provides great energy to our team. Mo is an athlete that I believe has all the talent in the world to go do this.'
'What I believe will happen right now and what actually does happen on November 24, remains to be seen. 'We will progress every week and look forward to being at our best in November.'
Then you come to the freshmen class. Without them, Metcalf says, the women are already a very good team. But with arguably the best group of freshmen runners in the nation, things get particularly interesting. Heading the incoming group is Kendra Schaaf from Saskatchewan, Canada and Christine Babcock of Irvine, Calif. Schaaf was the Canadian junior national cross country champion, and finished 20th at the Junior World Cross Country meet, and 7th in the 5000m at the Junior World Track meet. Babcock broke national high school records which had stood for more than 20 years in the 1500 and 1600 this past spring, and ran in the Olympic Trials.
'Coach Strong did a phenomenal job recruiting this awesome group of young people,' Metcalf said. 'These women can impact immediately. When you add an athlete in Kendra Schaaf, who has run 4:20 (1500m) and 16:05 (5000m) - she's going to help make us better. It will be exciting to follow her career.'
'Christine is really, really good. She was undefeated in Cross Country her final two years of high school and is one of or the best high school miler ever,' said Metcalf. 'When you add those two, they're going to make our team, they're that talented and they have those kinds of expectations. It's going to be fun to watch them run. I want them to come in, be able to play a role on our team, and I think they're good enough that they'll get to go do that.'
The class is also deep and well-rounded, with nine women altogether joining the fray. Kayla Evans of Tacoma was the runner-up at the Washington state cross meet last year, while Adrienne McGuirk was the Oregon state champ at 3000-meters. Allison Linnell from New Jersey was a prep All-American, and Courtney Lightfoot had two Top-10 finishes at the California state XC meet.
Armed with an assemblage of top-flight talent, quality depth, senior leadership and a wave of gifted freshmen, the 2008 season could be a memorable one for Washington. Metcalf already likes the sense of unity he sees developing.
'The common goal for our women is they want to go get it done for each other,' says Metcalf. 'No one wants to let their teammate down, and I think our women's team has great energy and belief and I think that's going to lead to great things on November 24th.'